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The Rhetoric of Redemption

Chesterton, Ethical Criticism, and the Common Man


Alan R. Blackstock

The Rhetoric of Redemption: Chesterton, Ethical Criticism, and the Common Man examines the literary criticism written by G. K. Chesterton between 1902 and 1913 from a rhetorical standpoint to ascertain whether Chesterton did in fact create the «criticism for the common man» he aimed for. To answer this question, this book explores the relationships among writers, readers, books, and critics both during the time Chesterton first began writing and in the context of rhetorical and critical tradition from Plato to the present day. Ultimately, this book argues that Chesterton's unorthodox approach to literature, while still dismissed by the academic establishment, raises fundamental questions about the nature and function of literature and criticism that need to be raised anew in every generation and especially in the wake of each new critical episteme.
The Rhetoric of Redemption is extremely useful for both scholars and students of literary criticism and Chesterton enthusiasts who are interested in his approach to literature. This book would also be a valuable resource for courses in nineteenth-century British literature, literary criticism, and rhetorical analysis.


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Introduction 1


Introduction My first acquaintance with the work of G. K. Chesterton came as an un- dergraduate. Having read much of the work of C.S. Lewis, I knew that Chesterton had influenced Lewis’s spiritual progress, but it was not until a professor of philosophy recommended Orthodoxy that I made the effort to locate and read any of Chesterton’s writing. I was intrigued with the argu- ment of the book, and shortly thereafter, while browsing titles at an airport bookstore, I came across The Innocence of Father Brown. Again I was taken with the wit of the stories, and when in graduate school another professor recommended The Man Who Was Thursday as a prime example of an early detective novel, I sought it out and read it with pleasure as a fine entertain- ment. But though all three books appealed to my aesthetic and religious sensibilities, I did not at the time consider Chesterton’s writing to be suitable for serious consideration as literature, being then enmeshed with attempts at deconstructive analysis of such monuments of obscurity as the prophetic books of William Blake. And so it was not until after I had finished my graduate coursework and was studying for my Ph.D. comprehensive exams, while teaching full-time at a rural community college, that I received my first exposure to the literary criticism of G. K. Chesterton. One of my fields of examination was nine- teenth-century British literature, and so I determined in preparing for the exam to read all the primary and...

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